As one of the most complex emotions known to man, we are all familiar with love in one way or another. Shakespeare once said: ‘Love comforteth like sunshine after rain’. John Lennon professed that ‘All you need is love’ and the Dalai Lama taught us that ‘Love is the absence of judgement’. Most people seek love in its romantic form, some of us are fortunate to experience the platonic love between two lifelong friends and many of us have experienced familial love from birth. Love is, without question, multifaceted. Why is it then that we struggle so much with the concept of loving ourselves?
Something I’ve written about on numerous occasions, is my history of anxiety and my experience of being in a controlling relationship. One thing I’ve always been so grateful for is the frame of mind I had when ending that relationship. Upon leaving any relationship, we can feel vulnerable and lonely. The sudden concept of being without companionship is unfamiliar to us. I, however, made a deal with myself. It was more important for me, at that stage in my life, to learn to love myself than it was for me to love someone else. I’d spent far too many years convincing myself that I wasn’t worthy, continually reliving difficult moments, yet somehow overlooking the amazing ones. I needed to rediscover my own identify, to realign my life and to simply spend time getting to know myself; listening to my own voice for a change, identifying personal goals and aspirations and learning how to be content in my own space. When leaving this relationship, it was crucial for me to take a time out. The worst thing I could have done for myself, at that stage, would have been to enter a new relationship.
Learning how to love myself, I must say, has not been easy. We are so good at loving other people, yet find it incredibly hard to love ourselves. If you are anything like myself, at times, you have been your own worst enemy. A thousand people could tell me something positive about myself and one person could tell me something negative. My mind would always focus on the negativity. I was looking for something to affirm my own negative thoughts. A negative comment would have done just that. It would have proved to me that my thinking was correct. If anyone would complement me, I would always find a reason to reject it. Why are they lying to me? Never once did it occur to me that maybe I was wrong. Never once did it occur to me that rejecting a compliment is comparable to receiving a thoughtful gift and saying you don’t want it. In hindsight, not one person in my circle of friends and family has ever said anything negative to me.
There always seems to be an enormous amount of pressure on single people to meet someone, to find ‘the one’. From experience, I honestly believe that if you can work on learning how to love yourself unconditionally, you open yourself out to the possibility of being loved unconditionally by others or at least to the idea of being content in your own company. After all, how can we possibly love or be loved if we don’t first love ourselves?
So that I may help you to learn how to love yourself, I’d like to share with you some of the ways through which I have learned and am learning to love myself.
I have to say that accepting compliments is something I still struggle with, even now knowing what I know. I have, however, learned a technique that enables me to do so. When receiving a complement, I now offer a simple thank you, rather than challenging it. I also try to process what is being said to me and think about it before rejecting it in my mind. It’s a simple technique, but it does work. Even if you doubt what is being said in your mind, it does force you to rethink things. Always remember, there is a reason why people are complimenting you in the first place.
Do Not Love Yourself Conditionally
In the past, particularly in the first few years after leaving the controlling relationship, I was trying to love myself on a conditional basis; I will love myself once I’ve had my hair restyled, I will love myself once I’ve got a new wardrobe, I will love myself once I’ve qualified in a new field. I was continually trying to change who I was as a way of trying to love myself. I failed to realise that I needed to love what was already there, what had always been there. I now understand fully why I had that mindset; I’d be stripped of all sense of self-confidence. This way of thinking merely shifts the barriers of conditional love and you end up on a continual chase for something that you will never find. Conditional love is not real love. Truly loving ourselves is about doing so unconditionally. It’s about accepting the stripped back version of yourself, imperfections and all.
Treat Yourself the Way You Would Treat Others
For most of us, we wouldn’t dream of speaking to others in the way we speak to ourselves. It would be comparable to walking into a room of people and insulting them for their appearance and their personalities. When we look at it from that perspective, it highlights how harsh we can be on ourselves. I now try to compliment myself every day. It may be that I’ve achieved something out of the ordinary. Perhaps I’ve gone out of my way to help someone or I’ve achieved something great at work. It could be as simple as getting your daily household tasks done. Whatever it is, however insignificant it may seem, acknowledge it. If you find this difficult, start with something small and work your way up to bigger complements. This really can be a rewarding task.
Dont Strive for Perfection
I’ve always been somewhat of a perfectionist and, to date, it’s been one of my biggest downfalls. What I’ve come to realise is that a perfectionist will never achieve perfection. Effectively, I was setting myself up for failure. I now have a very different outlook. I have learned to accept that my best is my very best and I use any mistakes I make to mould progression.
Embrace Your Imperfections
Since meeting my current partner, of whom I’ve been with for nearly seven years, I realise that what I deem to be imperfect about myself is what he deems to be most attractive. I like to think of it as ‘one man’s trash is another man’s gold’. The imperfections that I’ve focused on for so many years, that at times have been the cause of some real lows, are the very reason why I am now loved so unconditionally by someone else. For that reason alone, I realise that it’s more than okay to be imperfect and have even started to embrace those imperfections.
To love oneself can seem conceited and selfish. I once considered this to be true, but in recent years I have realised how wrong I was. Loving yourself is not flaunting yourself. Learning to love myself does not take away my ability to love and care for others, but rather enhances it.